Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Idol's Night o' Wonder

In the brief, illustrious history of “American Idol,” there is no artist whose work contestants have more consistently mauled, tortured or otherwise rendered soulless than Stevie Wonder, he of heartfelt, technically demanding brilliance.

So what theme did the “Idol” powers that be pick for Tuesday’s show, the first night featuring this year’s 12 finalists? Why, Stevie Wonder, of course. Oh, irony is cruel.

But wait, Stevie’s
in on it! On the show! Chatting with the contestants and providing sage musical wisdom! He’s funny, and warm and patient! And to further the shock: Some of the performances were seriously good (though no match for the originals), delivered by contestants who knew and respected Wonder’s music!

Granted, it took a while to get to those, past the kind of cheesy clip montage producers usually save ‘til the end of the show and past an abysmal performance Kellie Pickler’s probably going to want to forget.

The normally sparky, spunky Albemarle 19-year-old was forced into unfamiliar territory on Wonder night and it showed, as she delivered a listless, shaky rendition of “Blame It On The Sun.” Randy called it “a non-event…like it didn’t even really happen.” Simon said “everything went wrong tonight,” calling it her worst performance and “boring…like it was never going to end.” Even Paula – yes, Paula! – called it “too safe,” though she tried to recover by complimenting Pickler’s appearance. Pickler remained chipper throughout, cracking jokes and smiling amid the criticism.

And then there was Kevin Covais. Oh, Kevin: the skinny, pale, bespectacled 16-year-old Long Islander who occupies the bizarre middle ground between John Stevens (boring, can’t sing, square and seemingly not really too in on that fact) and Clay Aiken (hilarious, can sing, square and proud of it). He knows, he said, that he’s a sex symbol, and gosh darn it, he had to live up to that! So he did. By singing “Part-Time Lover” and dancing, though I suspect he’s not even at the point in his life where “1/16-time Lover” would be an apt tune to sing. (Give the boy points for deadpan humor and self-awareness, though.) With Covais warbling lyrics like “undercover passion on the run” and “knowing it’s so wrong, but feeling so right,” the result was full-time laughter, though his vocals were actually pretty on-target.
The American Idol he’s not, but he shouldn’t plan on buying a ticket home just yet.

As Simon correctly noted (how that’s getting to be a pattern…), the second half of the show blew the bland first half out of the water, with classy Katharine McPhee’s effortless “Until You Come Back to Me,” Taylor Hicks tearing into “Living For The City,” Paris Bennett belting out “All I Do” and Chris Daughtry rocking “Higher Ground” with mic stand in hands a la Bo Bice.

Now, for list o’ awards, notes and such:

Achin’ for Clay: Clay Aiken’s way-clever guest appearance on NBC’s “Scrubs” aired opposite the final half-hour of Tuesday’s “Idol.”

Creepy possible fetish moment #1: “I love the shoes, though, man. I’m a man that loves shoes.” – Randy Jackson, on Pickler’s retro-fabulous pumps.

Creepy possible fetish moment #2: Ryan Seacrest praising Mandisa’s soft-skinned ankles as he removed her painful high heels.

Fighting words: “It’s all right, I wasn’t expecting much from you anyway. So.” Kevin, after Simon called his performance “the point in the show where Stevie Wonder turns down the volume.”

I think we just need to repeat this exchange in full.
Kellie Pickler, speaking to Seacrest after Simon lambasted her performance: “I got some new eyelashes. I feel like I have tarantulas on.”
Seacrest: “Aren’t you an arachnophobic?”
Pickler: “Yes, I’m terrified of bugs.” (looks somewhat confused)
Seacrest: “You don’t look so scared right now.”
Pickler: “I am, but they’re not real tarantulas.”
Seacrest: “We could do this for three hours if you want.”

Most unwelcome news: Randy asserting that, “no, baby,” the dreaded “dawg pound” isn’t gone – instead, it just got bigger, and now includes The Entire Audience. The Audience responds by barking halfheartedly. “Oh, Simon, can we take it?” Seacrest asks. “I don’t know.”

Please tell me it’s too soon for this kind of self-reference: Simon says McPhee reminds him vocally of Kelly Clarkson.

Profundity in action: “Here’s a guy who’s not just battling blindness, but battling the same thing we all are, which is life,” said Ace Young, noting he was impressed, overjoyed and overwhelmed to meet Stevie Wonder.

So the answer is yes? “Taylor has feeling, and I believe that feeling is coming from his soul,” said Wonder, after Hicks stood near him wearing a t-shirt reading “Got soul?”

Trend unlikely to continue: Was it just me, or did Paula actually seem pretty coherent?

Trend likely to continue: For the second week in a row, a contestant made fun of Seacrest’s hair.

Worst dance moves: Wait, an award’s not worth giving if everyone qualifies!

Best performances: Katharine, Taylor, Paris, Chris.

Bottom 3: Bucky – Love this Rockingham guy’s enthusiasm for the music, like his voice, adore that he recently gave sweet tea a shout-out on national TV…still think he and his blond, flowing “Jessica Simpson hair,” as Simon called it, aren't long for the competition. Melissa – dude, yo, all right, so check it out, you’ve got a decent voice, but you forgot the lyrics to your song! Kellie – see above.

Who’s going home? Not Kellie. (Yes, this is a cop-out. However, feel free to share more conclusive thoughts.)